Intensity of Agricultural Workload and the Seasonality of Births in Italy

Abstract

According to “the energy balance mechanism” theory, female ovarian function is strongly hindered by even a modest negative energy balance (the difference between calorie intake and calorie consumption). Agriculture-based economies were characterized by periods of extremely intense workload (especially in summer when grain was harvested) without sufficient nutrition. We analyze the role of the intensity of agricultural workload (proxied by marriage seasonality) on seasonal oscillations in births. Using data at the regional level, from Italian Unification to the eve of the World War I, we find some empirical support for the energy balance theory. In particular, we find the strength of the relationship between marriage seasonality and birth seasonality to be lower in the more developed Northern part of the Italian country, in which some signs of industrialization had already been present.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

Source: Our elaborations on data from “Movimento dello stato Civile”

Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Source: Our elaborations

Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Notes

  1. 1.

    The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on receipt of a reasonable request.

  2. 2.

    Data on miscarriages for the epoch are not available. For stillbirths, Breschi et al. (2012) noted that, especially in the South, the presence of biases in the registration of stillbirths was clear. However, it might be argued that if the public officials had misclassified stillbirths, they will have done this all the year around, so the absence of summer peaks in stillbirths cannot be attributed to their errors. See also Derosas (2009) for an interesting discussion about the combined effect of malnutrition in late gestation and cold temperatures on neonatal mortality.

  3. 3.

    With high temperatures, female work in summer may have led to more miscarriages and/or stillbirths. Unfortunately, we do not have statistics for miscarriages for the period under analysis. For stillbirths, the reader is referred to the comments in Table 3.

  4. 4.

    Another possible effect of religious beliefs on marriage seasonality comes in May. Given that this month was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, some scholars sustain that marriages were avoided in the Catholic World as an act of respect for the Holy Virgin. It should be noted that if religious considerations are at the basis of the decision to not marry in May, then it would be reasonable to expect a depressive effect on sexual activity. This should imply a reduction in births approximately in February of the subsequent year. As we will show in the section of results, this seems not to have been true for the Italian regions. February was in fact a month of maximum concentration for live births.

  5. 5.

    The main problem highlighted by Somogyi was associated with the first decade of the marriage time series: the 1866 marriage law reform, which revoked the legal validity of religious marriages. This law entered force 1 January 1866 causing an overwhelming concentration of celebrations in December 1865 to avoid the application of the new law. As far as births are considered, Livi (1929) discussed the postponement of the registration of home births in the last days of December 1865. This custom was due to parents’ attempts to delay compulsory military service for their sons. However, Crisafulli et al. (2000) observed that the number of births in January continued to be higher than those in December, even in the second part of the twentieth century when the hospitalization of births was common and when the postponement of registration was impossible.

  6. 6.

    July, August and September were months of high workload in the agricultural economy, and we are estimating workload using a seasonal marriage index. At the same time, there are also other possible factors (for instance, hot temperatures) that might determine a trough in the conceptions and thus a depression in the number of births 9 months later. The inclusion of month dummies gives a partial control for this possible unobserved confounding effect.

  7. 7.

    Ruiu and Breschi (2017) argued that during dramatic events like wars or epidemics, there is a huge decrease in fertility levels due to the dramatic increase of marriage dissolution caused in turn by rising mortality. Furthermore, even when the event is ended, only after several lags do, we observe a rebound in fertility to higher levels than pre-crisis times.

  8. 8.

    In northern Italy, 1884 and the 1889 were also characterized by heavy production losses due to vine mildew (Matta and Alma 2010).

  9. 9.

    The reader is referred to Daniele and Malanima (2014) for more details on the economic development of Italian regions from unification onwards.

References

  1. Bai, J., & Perron, P. (1998). Estimating and testing linear models with multiple structural changes. Econometrica,66, 47–78.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bai, J., & Perron, P. (2003a). Computation and analysis of multiple structural change models. Journal of Applied Econometrics,18, 1–22.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bai, J., & Perron, P. (2003b). Critical values for multiple structural change tests. Econometrics Journal,6, 72–78.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bailey, R. C., Jenike, M. R., Ellison, P. T., Bentley, G., Harrigan, A. M., & Peacock, N. R. (1992). The ecology of birth seasonality among agriculturalists in central Africa. Journal of Biosocial Science,24(3), 393–412.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baroni, U. (1964). La periodicità delle nascite lungo il secolo delle rilevazioni demografiche in Italia (1862–1962). Rivista Italiana di Economia, Demografia e Statistica,18(3–4), 151–174.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bell, R. M. (1979). Fate, honor, family and village: Demographic and cultural change in rural Italy since 1800. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Beltrami, V. (2011). Italia D’Oltremare. Storia dei territori italiani dalla conquista alla caduta. Roma: Edizioni Nuova Cultura.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Black, R. E., Allen, L. H., Bhutta, Z. A., Caulfield, L. E., de Onis, M., Ezzati, M., et al. (2008). Maternal and child undernutrition: Global and regional exposures and health consequences. The Lancet,371(9608), 243–260.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bobak, M., & Gjonca, A. (2001). The seasonality of live birth is strongly influenced by sociodemographic factors. Human Reproduction,16(7), 1512–1517.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bonardi, L. (2014). Espace et production vitivinicoles en Italie depuis l’unification italienne jusqu’à aujourd’hui (p. 6). Territoires du vin: Tendances et étapes principales.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bongaarts, J., & Potter, R. G. (1979). Fertility effect of seasonal migration and seasonal variation in fecundability: Test of a useful approximation under more general conditions. Demography,16(3), 475–479.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Breschi, M., Esposito, M., Mazzoni, S., & Pozzi, L. (2012). The Sardinian Experience of the lowest Italian infant mortality at the turn of the twentieth century. Annales de démographie historique,1(123), 63–94.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Breschi, M., Esposito, M., Mazzoni, S., & Pozzi, L. (2014). Fertility transition and social stratification in the town of Alghero, Sardinia (1866–1935). Demographic Research,30(28), 823–852.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Breschi, M., & Livi-Bacci, M. (1986). Saison et climat comme contraintes de la survie des enfants. L’expérience italienne au XIXe siècle. Population,41(1), 9–35.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Breschi, M., & Livi-Bacci, M. (1997). Month of birth as a factor of children’s survival. In A. Bideau, B. Desjardins, & H. Pérez-Brignoli (Eds.), Infant and child mortality in the past (pp. 157–173). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Bronson, F. H. (1995). Seasonal variation in human reproduction: Environmental factors. The Quarterly Review of Biology,70(2), 141–161.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Buckles, K. S., & Hungerman, D. M. (2013). Season of birth and later outcomes: Old questions, new answers. The Review of Economics and Statistics,95(3), 711–724.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Butte, N. F., & King, J. C. (2005). Energy Requirements during pregnancy and lactation. Public Health Nutrition,8(7A), 1010–1027.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Chiassino, G., & Di Comite, L. (1972). Le fluttuazioni stagionali dei matrimoni in Italia e nelle singole regioni. Rassegna economica,36(6), 1535–1553.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Coppa, A., Di Donato, L., Vecchi, F., & Danubio, M. E. (2001). Seasonality of marriages and ecological contexts in rural communities of central-southern Italy (Abruzzo), 1500–1871. Collegium Antropologicum,25(2), 403–412.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Crisafulli, C., Dalla Zuanna, G., & Solero, F. (2000). La stagionalità delle nascite di ancien régime nelle provincie italiane e in Calabria. Popolazione e Storia,1, 177–198.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Cummings, D. R. (2002). The seasonality of human births, melatonin and cloud cover. Biological Rhythm Research,33(5), 521–559.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Cummings, D. R. (2007). Additional confirmation for the effect of environmental light intensity on the seasonality of human conceptions. Journal of Biosocial Science,39(3), 383–396.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Cummings, D. R. (2010). Human birth seasonality and sunshine. American Journal of Human Biology,22(3), 316–324.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Cummings, D. R. (2012). Canadian birth seasonality and its possible association with seasonal brightness. Canadian Studies in Population,39(1–2), 45–62.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Dalla Zuanna, G. (2010). Tacit consent: The Church and birth control in Northern Italy. Population and Development Review,37(2), 361–374.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Dalla Zuanna, G., & Rosina, A. (2010). An analysis of extremely high 19th century winter neonatal mortality in a local context of northeastern Italy. European Journal of Population,27(1), 33–55.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Daniele, V., & Malanima, P. (2014). Falling disparities and persisting dualism: Regional development and industrialisation in Italy, 1891–2001. Economic History Research,10, 165–176.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Danubio, M. E., & Amicone, E. (2001). Biodemographic study of a central appenine area (Italy) in the 19th and 20th centuries: Marriage seasonality and reproductive isolation. Journal of Biosocial Science,33(3), 442–449.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Danubio, M. E., Di Donato, L., Vecchi, F., & Coppa, F. (2002). Natality and the changing pattern of seasonality of births in the province of Teramo (Abruzzo, Italy: 1500–1871). Journal of Biosocial Science,35(3), 321–334.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Delgado Perez, M., & Livi-Bacci, M. (1992). Fertility in Italy and Spain: The lowest in the world. Family Planning Perspectives,24(4), 162–167.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Derosas, R. (2009). The joint effect of maternal malnutrition and cold weather on neonatal mortality in nineteenth-century Venice: An assessment of the hypothermia hypothesis. Population Studies,63(3), 233–251.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Doblhammer, G., Lee Rodgers, J., & Rau, R. (1999). Seasonality of birth in nineteenth and twentieth century Austria: Steps toward a unified theory of human reproductive seasonality. Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, MPIDR Working Paper WP 1999-013.

  34. Domenech, J. (2007). Working hours in the European periphery: The length of the working day in Spain, 1885–1920. Explorations in Economic History,44, 469–486.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Dorélien, A. M. (2015). Effects of birth month on child health and survival in sub-Saharan Africa. Biodemography and Social Biology,61(2), 209–230.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Dribe, M., & van de Putte, B. (2012). Marriage seasonality and the industrious revolution: Southern Sweden, 1690–1895. Economic History Review,65(3), 1123–1146.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Ellison, P. T. (2003). Energetics and reproductive effort. American Journal of Human Biology,15(3), 342–351.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Ellison, P. T., & Lager, C. (1986). Moderate recreational running is associated with lowered salivary progesterone profiles in women. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology,154(5), 1000–1003.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Ellison, P. T., Valeggia, C., & Sherry, D. (2005). Human birth seasonality. In D. K. Brockman & C. P. van Schaik (Eds.), Seasonality in primates: Studies of living and extinct human and non-human primates (pp. 379–399). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Grace, K. (2017). Considering climate in studies of fertility and reproductive health in poor countries. Nature Climate Change,7, 479–485.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Grech, V., Savona-Ventura, C., Agius-Muscat, H., & Janulova, L. (2003). Seasonality of births is associated with seasonality of marriages in Malta. Journal of Biosocial Science,35(1), 95–105.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Gruppioni, G., Coppa, A., & Danubio, M. E. (2005). Subsistence patterns as regulators of vital events. The case study: Seasonality of marriages and conceptions in Historical Times in Central-Southern Apennines (Abruzzo Region). Human Evolution,21(2), 181–191.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Istat. (1940). Annuario statistico dell’agricoltura italiana 1936-1938, Rome, Italy.

  44. Istat. (1948). Annuario statistico dell’agricoltura italiana 1939–1942, Rome, Italy.

  45. Istat. (1986). Sommario Statistiche Storiche 1926-1985, Roma, Italia.

  46. Istat. (2011). Italia in 150 anni. Sommario di Statistiche storiche 1861–2010, Roma, Italia.

  47. James, W. H. (1971). Social class and season of birth. Journal of Biosocial Science,3(3), 309–320.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Jasienska, G., & Ellison, P. T. (1998). Physical work causes suppression of ovarian function in women. Proceedings Biological Sciences,265(1408), 1847–1851.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Jennings, J. A., & Gray, C. L. (2017). Climate and marriage in Netherlands, 1871–1937. Population and Environment,30(3), 242–260.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Kussmaul, A. (1985). Time and space, hoofs and grain: The seasonality of marriage in England. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History,5(4), 755–779.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Lam, D. A., & Miron, J. A. (1994). Global patterns of seasonal variations in human fertility. Annals New York Academy of Sciences,709, 9–28.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Lam, D. A., & Miron, J. A. (1996). The effect of temperature on human fertility. Demography,33, 291–306.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Lam, D. A., Miron, J. A., & Riley, A. (1994). Modeling seasonality in fecundability, conceptions, and births. Demography,31, 321–346.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Lentini, R. (2015). L’invasione silenziosa. Storia della fillossera nella Sicilia dell’800. Palermo: Torri del Vento.

  55. Lesthaeghe, R., & Lopez-Gay, A. (2013). Spatial continuities and discontinuities in two successive demographic transitions: Spain and Belgium, 1880–2010. Demographic Research,28(4), 77–136.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Lesthaeghe, R., & Surkyn, J. (1988). Cultural dynamics and economic theories of fertility change. Population and Development Review,14(1), 1–45.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Levine, R. J. (1994). Male factors contributing to the seasonality of human reproduction. Annals New Iork Academy of Sciences,709, 29–45.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Livi, L. (1929). Sulle false dichiarazioni della data di nascita per i nati alla fine dell’anno, e rettifica della distribuzione mensile delle nascite nel triennio 1923–1925. In Istat (Ed.), Annali di Statistica, Serie VI (Vol. III, pp. 41–109). Roma.

  59. Livi-Bacci, M. (1990). Italian fertility: An historical account. Journal of family history,15(4), 385–408.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Lucchetti, E., Manfredini, M., Boetsch, G., Bley, D., Aluja, P., Pena, J., et al. (1996). Changes in marriage seasonality among some european rural populations. International Journal of Anthropology,11(2–4), 73–81.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Maggiorino, A. (1883). Monografia agraria sul circondario di Susa. In Atti della giunta per l’inchiesta agraria e sulle condizioni della classe agricola. Monografie allegate alla relazione sulla VII Circoscrizione (Cuneo, Torino, Alessandria, Novara, Piacenza e circondari di Bobbio e Voghera) (Vol. 7(2), pp. 9–106). Rome: Forzani e C. Tipografi del Senato.

  62. Manfredini, M. (2009). Birth seasonality in present day Italy, 1993–2005. Human Ecology,37, 227–234.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Matsuda, S., & Kahyo, H. (1994). Geographical differences and time trends in the seasonality of birth in Japan. International Journal of Epidemiology,23, 107–118.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Matta, A., & Alma, A. (2010). Catastrofiche pandemie di parassiti delle piante. I Georgofili, 2009–V, 7–27.

  65. Menken, J. (1979). Seasonal migration and seasonal variation in fecundability: Effects on birth rates and birth intervals. Demography,16(1), 103–119.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Millman, S. R., & Potter, R. G. (1984). The fertility impact of spousal separation. Studies in Family Planning,15(3), 121–126.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Moroni, A., Adornato, A., Anelli, A., Anghinetti, W., Rossi, O., Siri, E., et al. (1973). Ricerche di ecologia umana nelle isole Eolie. Biogeographia The Journal of Integrative Biogeography,3(1), 853–894.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Muñoz-Tudurì, M., & Garcìa-Moro, C. (2008). Season of birth affects short and long-term survival. American Journal of Physical Anthropology,135(4), 462–468.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Navarra, E. (1998). Demografia di un villaggio alpino della Carnia: nuzialità e natalità a Sauris tra Settecento e Ottocento. La Ricerca Folklorica,38, 49–61.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Newey, W. K., & West, K. D. (1994). Automatic lag selection in covariance matrix estimation. Review of Economic Studies,61, 631–653.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Papa, C. (1985). Dove sono molte braccia è molto pane. Perugia (Italy): Editoriale Umbra.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Pascual, J., Dipierri, J. E., Alfaro, E., & Garcìa-Moro, C. (2002). Birth Seasonality in Jujeño (North-West Argentina) altitude populations. Journal of Biosocial Science,34(2), 249–258.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Philibert, A., Tourigny, C., Coulibaly, A., & Fournier, P. (2013). Birth seasonality as a response to a changing rural environment (Kayes region, Mali). Journal of Biosocial Science,45, 547–565.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Prentice, A. M., & Cole, T. J. (1994). Seasonal changes in growth and energy status in the third world. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society,53(3), 509–519.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Quaranta, L. (2011). Agency of change: Fertility and seasonal migration in a nineteenth century alpine community. European Journal of Population,27(4), 457–485.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Regneir-Loilier, A., & Divinagracia, E. (2010). Changes in the seasonality of births in France from 1975 to the Present. Population,65(1), 145–185.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Roenneberg, T., & Aschoff, J. (1990). Annual rhythm of human reproduction: II. Environmental correlations. Journal of Biological Rhythms,5, 217–239.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Ruiu, G., & Breschi, M. (2015). ‘For the times they are a changin’. The respect for religious precepts through the analysis of the seasonality of marriages. Italy, 1862–2012. Demographic Research,33, 179–210.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Ruiu, G., & Breschi, M. (2017). Seasonality of livebirths and climatic factors in Italian regions (1863–1933). Historical Life Course Studies,4, 144–163.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Ruiu, G., & Gonano, G. (2015). Seasonality of marriages in Italian regions: An analysis from the formation of the Italian Kingdom to the present. Rivista Italiana di Economia, Demografia e Statistica,LXIX(1), 135–142.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Sanna, E., & Danubio, M. E. (2008). Seasonality of Marriage in Sardinian pastoral and agricultural communities in the nineteenth century. Journal of Biosocial Science,40(4), 577–586.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Seiver, D. A. (1985). Trend and variation in the seasonality of U.S. fertility. Demography,22, 89–100.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Seiver, D. A. (1989). Seasonality of fertility. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies,10(4), 245–257.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Somogyi, S. (1965). Nuzialità. In Istat (ed), Sviluppo della Popolazione dal 1861 al 1961. Annali di Statistica, Serie VIII, (Vol. 17, pp. 321–398). Roma

  85. Suzuki, R., & Shimodaira, H. (2006). Pvclust: An R package for assessing the uncertainty in hierarchical clustering. Bioinformatics,22(12), 1540–1542.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Trovato, F., & Odynak, D. (1993). The seasonality of births in Canada and the provinces 1881–1989: Theory and analysis. Canadian Studies in Population,20(1), 1–41.

    Google Scholar 

  87. van Poppel, F. (1995). Seasonality of work, religion and popular customs: The seasonality of marriage in the nineteenth- and twentieth century Netherlands. Continuity and Change,10(2), 215–256.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Wehr, T. A. (2001). Photoperiodism in humans and other primates: Evidence and implications. Journal of Biological Rhythms,16, 348–364.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

The research activity carried out by Gabriele Ruiu has been in part financed by the “Fondo per il finanziamento dei dipartimenti universitari di eccellenza” (Law nr. 232/2016).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabriele Ruiu.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights

This research has not involved human and animal participants.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3 Seasonality of stillbirths in Italy, 1891–1933
Table 4 Agricultural calendar in Italian regions in 1939.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ruiu, G., Breschi, M. Intensity of Agricultural Workload and the Seasonality of Births in Italy. Eur J Population 36, 141–169 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-019-09524-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Seasonality of births
  • Seasonality of marriages
  • Energy balance
  • Economic development
  • Agricultural calendar